(WACO, Texas) – Utex Industries Inc. in Houston has two Texas State Technical College graduates working daily to keep its employees safe.
Michael Houlihan is the company’s health, safety and environmental – maintenance manager at the company’s Weimar plant, which makes high-pressure gaskets for the oil and gas fracking industry. Dawn Swofford is the corporate senior environmental health and safety manager based in the Houston area.
“She and I just have an excellent open-door policy of communication,” Houlihan said. “I like working with her because of her knowledge. The key thing is her dedication.”
Utex Industries Inc. specializes in fluid sealing for the aerospace, industrial, water distribution, and oil and gas markets. The company specializes in bonding, fabric reinforcement, metal machining, thermoplastics and urethane molding. The company has more than 35 patents for mechanical seals, molded rubber seals, pump gaskets and other kinds of sealing devices.
Houlihan’s work involves earning the trust of employees to constantly improve plant safety. He starts his workday writing a safety report and looking at how many days there has not been a workplace injury. Houlihan visits departments to ask if they need more personal protection equipment and learn about any problems that need to be addressed. He has weekly conference calls with Swofford and other safety staff each week to discuss federal and company safety standards.
“My primary job is to make sure at the end of the day, everybody goes home,” he said.
Houlihan took advantage of on-the-job training. He learned about fire safety, decontamination work and hazardous materials through the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. He also underwent fire training when he worked at Phillips 66’s Sweeny Refinery.
Houlihan became interested in safety after he witnessed a lifelong friend die in a workplace accident in the late 1970s near the Texas coast. He realized that anyone could be killed while working. He went on to graduate in the early 1990s from TSTC with an associate degree in what is now Occupational Safety Compliance Technology.
Houlihan said his career would not have been the same without TSTC.
“I would not have had the management roles I have had,” he said.
Swofford was hired at Utex Industries Inc. two weeks before she received an associate degree in 2014 from what is now TSTC’s Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program.
She began as a technician and worked her way up to managing environmental health and safety for several of the company’s facilities. She is also a certified forklift inspector and 3M-certified respirator fit test administrator.
Her work involves ensuring that compliance issues are addressed, preparing and writing annual reports, onboarding, training and other tasks.
“I always learn something new every day,” she said.
Swofford said understanding chemistry and taking as many mathematics courses as possible is good academic preparation for the safety field. She said for her job, she has to approve chemicals coming onto company sites, know what solvents are and understand inhalation hazards.
Her career advice for people interested in the safety field is to reach out to others when needed.
“Always use your resources because someone out there somewhere has already done it or invented it,” Swofford said. “I think something else that would be beneficial to nontraditional students is to pay attention to project management. Environmental health and safety is an ever-evolving field.”
Swofford said there is a need for more women to pursue the safety field.
“I think it is because we are good at multitasking and we are good at the emotional side of the job,” she said. “We are naturally nurturing, and we truly put our all into making sure that someone goes home safe so they can see their family.”
TSTC’s Environmental Technology – Compliance program and Occupational Safety Compliance Technology program will merge this fall. The program’s two associate degrees will be combined to create the new Associate of Applied Science degree in Occupational Safety and Environmental Compliance Technology.
Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at Texas State Technical College. For more information, go to tstc.edu.